Words I Really Don't Like

Posted: February 3, 2023

Do you have words that kids say that you really don't like? Like "No way?" and "You can't make me?" and "Whatever"?

I have some, too, that come from adults and that might surprise you. "Won't" "Wants to ..." and "Get my child to ..."

Let me explain. 

What's so bad about saying, "Won't?" Because we understand that kids need to be in the light of their parents' love, and it's hardly ever that they simply "won't" do something.  All behavior is communication and a readable signal. So, if we read the signal and act on it, we're making great strides in strengthening the parent-child relationship. This is the key to helping the child feel safe, and the natural consequence of that safety is collaboration with you (See statement above: kids want to live in the light of their parents' love -  their cooperation makes that light shine.)  What's the child signaling when he or she won't do what needs to happen? It could be a number of things that you can help to resolve. 

Here are some of them:

1. I'm not at that stage of development yet to take on the task you asked me to do.  See for a resource on child development at each stage.
2. I've had trauma, so in this area I'm not at the stage of development that others my age might be. Trauma interrupted my intellectual or emotional steps because my whole body was in survival mode. (If your child consistently acts younger than his or her age, adjust your expectations to that younger age until he or she catches up.)
3. I have ADHD, which interferes with my understanding of what exactly you expect. (Please note that 'auditorily' is how most expectations are delivered and most kids with ADHD don't store, interpret and retrieve the sounds of your voice as readily as kids without ADHD. Visuals and modeling the task can really help.)
4. I would like to do what you ask, but I'm hungry/exhausted/distracted by big emotion, and it's just not feasible right now. (Letting your child off the hook in these situations is not failed parenting. It's compassionate parenting.)
5. I learned how to do the task you want me to do, but I'm a kid and not a machine. Because I know how to do it, that doesn't mean I do it every single time. (Being stringent on task completion is only going to serve as a flashpoint for resistance, so it's OK to let go, do the task yourself, predict that the child will do it next time, and give heartfelt appreciation when it happens.)

"He 'wants to' be a pain in everyone's neck."  "She 'wants to' defy us at every turn."  In the case of gender-questioning or gender diverse kids, "She 'wants to' be a boy." In the case of gay kids, "He 'wants to' be attracted to other boys." 

A child almost never wants to be separated emotionally from his/her/their parents.  You are, after all, their survival, so it threatens their safety to be at odds with you. There's always an underlying reason for what appears as willful acts or statements of "disrespect." 

1. Being a 'pain in everyone's neck' is often the result of a lack of self-esteem that comes from being overly corrected. The amygdala (the threat alarm in the brain) has gotten a lot of reaction to being a pain, so it says to the child's body, outside of the child's awareness, "Your parents, upon whom you are dependent for survival, saw you just then! You're going to survive! Do that again!" The cycle of being a pain just got a huge boost from a part of the brain the child is following, but of which he or she is totally unaware. (To switch "pain" behavior to "loving/cooperative behavior, give a lot of attention to what you want with: "When you ... I feel ... because ... " around all the good things he/she/they do.) 
2. Defiance, same as above. 
3. Gender questioning or diverse kids are not choosing to be the opposite of their gender assigned at birth. Their brains and bodies just don't match. So they don't "want to" be other than the gender that they were born: inside they ARE that gender. (To accept this as a parent can be like being tossed up in a tornado, and it takes some big adjustment for many people. To fail to accept your child for who they are inside is a disaster for the child, as depression and anxiety follow when your parents are not approving of your identity. Work to learn all you can about young children and adolescents in this situation, and if you need help, let me know.
4. The same is true for gay kids. When your child expresses an attraction to same-sex persons, acceptance and support is your only path to helping your child achieve mental health and a positive future. 

"How do I "get my child" to clean his room, pick up after herself, help with the dishes or come home at curfew?

1. You may have noticed that "getting your child to ..." hardly ever works, and if it does, there's usually only a temporary fix, and often some retaliation. 
2. By being present in this moment with your child's objection to doing what needs to be done, instead of "getting her to," it's quite possible to "free" her to do it. 
3. Active, reflective listening is the key to freeing your child to cooperate. If you address the underlying emotion associated with the resistance, you're halfway home to collaborating with your child. "You feel like I'm always harping on you to do what needs doing here."  "You hate it when I ask you to take out the trash when you're deep into a movie or video game." "You wish I'd lay off on the condition of your room, because you feel it's your space." "You think curfew is a joke." These reflections are not agreeing with your child, nor are they condoning the behaviors. They are SEEING YOUR CHILD, which is the gateway to cooperation. They calm the threat alarm in the brain and allow the rational part of the brain to engage. These two parts are never active at the same time - it's always threat or rational thinking. Take time to hear the feelings, pause to let it sink in that the child is seen by you, reflect what he or she says next. Pause again. Then, once the child is seen and the rational brain is activated, and only then, can you expect cooperation that builds your relationship. Connect and reflect, before you expect.  

That was a long blog entry!  I hope you can see that the reason I don't care for these words is that they aren't helpful in resolving relationship issues with your child. In coaching, our one goal is to strengthen you and that kid. 

For help with these and other parenting issues, click here. 

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I See You Letter

“I See You” Letter

Another tool for helping a child with a traumatized brain, or any child who is asking for attention by showing unwanted behavior, is an “I see you” letter. When something is put into writing, it weighs more. The child can read the message without having to hear the adult’s voice, which is more effective because adult voices have sometimes not proven trustworthy in the past. I encourage caregivers to write the letter in a notebook, so the child can write back, if she so chooses, and review the letter at any time. The re-reading can be very healing. When I’ve encouraged other adults to write this type of letter, they’ve told me that they’ve found it later, stashed in a drawer or other safe spot, but never thrown away, which speaks to its significance to the child.

               You can write a letter to a child of any age. If she is old enough to read, just leave it on her pillow. If not, write it out and read it slowly, then hand it to her.

               If the child is so hurt that listening to you read a letter is too much, try posting notes that say what you see in her all over her room. Use the components below to craft your letter or your notes.
               The components of the “I See You Letter” are:

  1. I see what you've been through (in details that are significant to her, maybe just the things you know she remembers). You may want to add, "And other things, too, that we haven't talked about." This could spark a response where she shares more.
  2. In light of your experiences, I realize that none of your recent behavior is your fault. You were just trying to express your pain.
  3. I'm sorry I blamed you when I just didn't realize that your behavior was your pain being expressed.
  4. Together we'll work on making it better, and here's how: ______

An example:

Dear Ana,

I just wanted to tell you what I see when I look at you. I see a kid who has had some very rough experiences. When you were younger, your adults did not do what they needed to do to keep you safe. No child should have this happen, as every child deserves and needs to be kept safe. Your mom left you with people who hurt you, and your dad left without saying why. That must hurt so much. I want you to know that this was never, ever your fault. You were an innocent child.

I see a kid who is sensitive and smart. I see a kid who is amazing at figuring out other people. I so appreciate hearing you express what you know long before others your age can do that. I see a kid with artistic ability, and one who cares deeply for our pets. When I watch you with younger children, I am so impressed with how tender you are.

I realize I have gotten angry with you and yelled when you were upset with me. I now get that you just felt threatened, and you did not mean to hurt my feelings or disrespect me. I’m sorry and I will try very hard not to yell in the future. If I make a mistake and yell (because we all make mistakes), I will apologize and have a do-over, because no one deserves to be yelled at.

If you feel like writing back to me in this notebook, that’s great. Feel very free to do so. If not, I’m fine with that, too. I’m just happy to be able to use this notebook to say what I want to tell you in writing.

I am so happy you are in my life. Thank you for all the gifts you give me, especially your smile.


Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa/Other caregiver

I encourage adults not to ever mention the letter, nor to expect him to say he read it and liked it. For a traumatized child, this may be too much vulnerability. But what often happens is that adults notice a softening in their child, a better attitude, more affection, more focus, and more cooperation. That’s the goal of writing: to see the child clearly, communicate it, allow the amygdala to register that the child is seen and therefore will survive, watch the result in a much more relaxed and relieved child and in an improved relationship. I often describe this process as being “like physics,” as predictable as proven science. It’s truly remarkable how dramatic the results are! And when you think about it, the seeing is the tool for calming the threat alarm. No wonder the child can now function so much more rationally. The more rational front brain is able to work!

I See You Letter